I’ve never supported the British National Party or the Ku Klux Klan. I’ve never belonged to the Paedophile Information Exchange, or denied the Holocaust, or made a penny from the banking crash. But if you read The Guardian newspaper’s website, you might think otherwise. A commentator on it urged my own children to murder me.
He did so because of one of the many stories I’ve written for this newspaper about climate change. I first reported on the subject nearly six years ago: my article was about the ‘climategate’ scandal, where leaked emails showed university scientists were trying to cover up data that suggested their claim the world is hotter than at any time in the past 1,300 years may be wrong.
Ever since then, I have been labelled a ‘climate change denier’ – a phrase which, since I happen to be Jewish, has particularly unfortunate connotations for me.
And this is despite the fact I believe the world IS warming, and that carbon dioxide produced by mankind IS a greenhouse gas, and IS partly responsible for higher temperatures – and have repeatedly said so.
On the other hand, I also think that the imminence of the threat posed by global warming has been exaggerated – chiefly because the grimmer computer projections haven’t been reflected by what’s been happening recently to temperatures in the real world.
I do believe we should invest in new ways of generating energy, and I hate belching smoke stacks and vast open-cast coal mines as much as anyone who cares about the environment.
Some would say this makes me a ‘lukewarmer’ – the jargon for someone who is neither a ‘warmist’ or a ‘denier’. But true believers don’t recognise such distinctions: to them, anyone who disagrees with their version of the truth is a denier, pure and simple. The result: vitriol directed my way, the like of which I have never experienced in 34 years as a journalist. Lately, it’s become worse.
The remark about my children killing me was made some months ago, after The Guardian published one of several critiques of my work by its climate activist blogger, Dana Nuccitelli. One of the online commenters posted: ‘In a few years, self-defence is going to be made a valid defence for parricide [killing one’s own father], so Rose’s children will have this article to present in their defence at the trial.’
Another commenter compared me to Adolf Hitler. Frankly, I didn’t take either of them too seriously. But last week on Twitter, someone else wrote that he knew where I lived, and posted my personal phone numbers.
Meanwhile, Nuccitelli had written another vehement attack, this time against Matt Ridley, The Times columnist, Tory peer and fellow ‘lukewarmer’. This fresh assault was illustrated by the paper’s editors with a grotesque image of a severed head. One who commented, called ‘Bluecloud’, said: ‘Should that not be Ridley’s severed head in the photo… Why are you deniers so touchy? Mere calls for a beheading evolve [sic] such a strong response in you people. Ask yourself a simple question: Would the world be a better place without Matt Ridley? Need I answer that question?’
In fact, Bluecloud is a Guardian contributor called Gary Evans, who is also a ‘sustainability consultant’ funded by Greenpeace. Ridley complained, but the statements stayed on the website for at least four days. Comments in support of Ridley were removed by the site’s moderators, because they did not ‘abide by our community standards’. In an email to The Guardian’s editor, Alan Rusbridger, Ridley pointed out that a Japanese hostage had just been beheaded by Islamic State.
Language only barely less extreme is now common. In the US, the Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has written that anyone who denies global warming must be ‘punished in the afterlife… this kind of denial is an almost inconceivable sin’.
Observer columnist Nick Cohen says he is sick of hearing climate sceptics whinge that being called ‘deniers’ equates them with those who deny the Holocaust: ‘The evidence for man-made global warming is as final as the evidence of Auschwitz. No other word will do.’